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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Razor Blades Soaked In Honey: Deal with the Dragon at A.C.T.'s Costume Shop

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Kevin Rolston in Deal With the Dragon - KENNY YUN
  • Kenny Yun
  • Kevin Rolston in Deal With the Dragon

Hanging upside down from the rafters is a scorched and leafless branch. It’s clear that something has set it on fire. A red light beams down through it onto the lone chair sitting just right of center stage. One black curtain is suspended behind the chair to mark the magic line between backstage and the spare set. When the lights dim, Kevin Rolston walks on stage to begin his one-man play Deal with the Dragon.

Rolston’s costume is a pair of dark blue jeans and a gargoyle green pair of Keens. His black, short-sleeved T-shirt has an illustration of a winter tree with roots to match the leafless branches, twin to the one hanging above his head. With that single set adornment and the lonely chair, Rolston breathes life into three distinct characters. And, like Scheherazade, he’s able to nest their stories inside a convincing hour-long narrative.

The first voice we hear in Dragon is that of Hunter’s, an artist in the midst of applying for a residency. As one of two finalists, Hunter is nervously preparing for an in-person interview. But his frayed nerves also stem from another source: Brenn. Brenn appears shortly after Hunter does. Rolston gives him a honeyed German accent; or, rather, an accent infused with razor blades that have been soaked in honey, from bees whose stings wound and then kill.

click to enlarge Kevin Rolston in Deal With the Dragon - KENNY YUN
  • Kenny Yun
  • Kevin Rolston in Deal With the Dragon

The first half of the performance is a dialogue between the two men. Or, since Rolston smartly leaves it open to interpretation, between one man and one dragon who quite possibly can take the shape of a man, the way that Maleficent does in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959). Hunter is entirely dependent on Brenn and is tentatively looking for a way out of the relationship. This effort to extricate himself does not make Brenn happy. Not in the least.

With the understated direction of M. Graham Smith, who also helped to develop the piece, Rolston changes back and forth from character to character with remarkable fluidity. Hunter might be speaking at the start of a scene then, with a change in posture or subtle repositioning of his body in the small space, Brenn suddenly returns with the full force of his serpent’s acid tongue. At one terrible moment of reckoning between them, Rolston summons up the presence of a dragon by merely contorting his body so that the audience can imagine a pair of terrifying wings.

click to enlarge Kevin Rolston in Deal With the Dragon - DEX CRAIG
  • Dex Craig
  • Kevin Rolston in Deal With the Dragon
Rolston’s acting convinces because of the quality of his writing. Two scenes in particular add unexpected depths of emotion to the main storyline. One is a flashback to Hunter’s childhood, which might explain a thing or two about his questionable life choices. The second scene introduces a third, completely realized character named Gandy. His monologue is such a believable aside you temporarily forget that Rolston is simultaneously holding all three characters at his disposal.

Gandy’s tragicomic story will eventually intersect with Brenn’s and Hunter’s as the trio of plot threads untangle themselves. Rolston’s lasting achievement here is his careful inhabiting of three unique characters and, without the special effects of Disney animators or the Game of Thrones production team, in persuading the audience with his actor’s imagination that there is, in fact, a dragon in the room.

Deal with the Dragon, through April 16, at A.C.T.’s The Costume Shop, 1117 Market Street, 800-838-3006.

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